It’s hard to believe that one full year has passed already – and it’s even crazier to think how much has happened since then! While I don’t have the experience of long-time accomplished authors with agents, publishers, balloons and champagne behind them (…wait, there are balloons, right?), I would have loved the insight I have now a year ago. While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning as I went, there are a few things which I wouldn’t have minded to know before I’ve started – and I’m sure some of you brand new writers feel the same way.
This isn’t a professional how-to guide, but perhaps it can make this journey a little less intimidating for you if you’re at the beginning of your writing career.
Your cover will take a while
When I contacted my saint of a cover designer, I expected him to say “Sure, we can fit you in next week! It’ll take roughly a month, but it’ll probably get done faster than that.” HA! Foolish, naive girl that I was. The earliest slot that was available at the time was three months away, and then we got delayed a tiny bit. And then we got delayed again when my cover designer fell ill. Things like that can’t be helped, and you should be prepared for them. Don’t contact someone a month before your set release date. It’s not going to happen, and it won’t be their fault when it doesn’t.
But why should you pay someone professional to do it for you, professionally? Well, have you never picked up a book because the cover smiled at you from across the room? There you go. Your book’s cover is your introduction to a potential reader. The first three seconds. You wouldn’t turn up to a job interview in sweat pants, and that’s precisely what the first three seconds of someone seeing your book’s shiny cover is – a job interview. Make sure it’s dressed the part.
Beta readers are vital
I can’t stress enough how fantastic my beta readers have been. You need someone else to go over your document for you, and there’s no one better suited for this than someone you don’t know personally. Someone who enjoys the genre your writing. Your friends are biased and might not be honest if they don’t like it, and your mum is definitely biased. If you have friends who can be brutal, great, but don’t count on it and don’t use it as an excuse not to get actual beta readers. I know it’s terrifying to have someone you don’t know pick your novel to pieces and tell you everything that needs fixing, but that’s what betas are there for!
My betas have changed my document in so many amazing ways and spotted mistakes you’d think I’d have seen myself, but didn’t. For example, one of the horses changed gender part-way through – I can’t explain how it slipped past me but it did, and if I missed something as obvious as that chances are you’re missing smaller, more subtle issues, too.
need want betas. Your fellow writers will love to help you out- all you need to do is ask!
You want an editor
I know a lot of self-published writers opt out of getting an editor because they cost money, but have you considered that it’s money extremely well spent? Yes, editors are costly, but they have the know-how to whip your document into shape! If you want to take this writing business seriously and have at least a small shot at being successful, there’s no way around it. Yes, I know even traditionally books have some spelling mistakes. Editors are heroes but not superhuman, they can’t spot everything. Would you rather publish a book that has one hundred mistakes, or three?
If you’re not sure what type of edit your document would most profit from, check out my post here where my editor Briana Morgan talks you through the different options.
People love a map
A map does so many good things for your novel. Not only does it look really pretty at the front of your book, but it also gives your readers a chance to see where your characters are. It makes it more real. And it tells people that you’ve really thought your world through! Plus it’s fun to draw the thing. But get a cartographer to pretty it up a little, maybe. A good cartographer can tell you about things you’ve drawn in that don’t make sense, either, like upwards flowing rivers. If it’s something specific to your world and intentional then you’re good, but if it’s a mistake it’s better to know about it when you can still fix it than when a disgruntled reader calls you out on your nonsense.
If you’re not sure what a cartographer can add to your book, take a look at my post here where my cartographer explains everything you need to know.
The writing community is here for you
Social Media is good for two huge things. The first one being that the writing community is the friendliest, most welcoming and supportive community I’ve found online. They’ll pull you up when you need it, inspire you on off days and cheer you on whether you need them to or not. Have you had a bad day staring at your document without progress? We’ve got you covered! Received an overly negative review? There’s a cat gif for that! Or maybe you just generally need a bit of motivation to get that writing sprint started? We can do that, too! (Honestly, we fix a lot with cat gifs)
This is the second huge thing the writing community is good for. Exposure. If you start your blog, a twitter account and maybe a facebook/instagram/pinterest/whatever your addiction before your book’s first draft is completed, you’ll already have a few curious people awaiting the release of your novel. Beats having no one know about you and your baby, right? On top of that, if you have wonderful followers like I do they’ll shout your book’s name (and yours) from the rooftops of twitter and instagram, which is free advertising! Just because they loved your book!
Did I mention you’ll make some wonderful writing buddies along the way? There’s no reason not to join the social media hype.
It’s a good idea to give your book away. For free.
Assuming that you’re giving it to someone who will write a review for you, that is. You don’t want to give it away to everyone who asks-presumably you do want to make some money-but if the person asking you can write a nice, positive review in return? Reviews sell books, you know! The more reviews you get the better, and giving your book away for free to a reviewer is a great way of getting some reviews and, therefore, exposure.
This is going to be a wee bit controversial, but personally I don’t believe in writer’s block. Some days it’s easy to write, and other days it feels like you’re trying to draw enough blood from a stone to summon a small army of demons. Writing isn’t always easy, and there will be days when you’ll feel like the words just won’t come. But they will, if you keep at it.
Don’t forget that there are other ways to work on your novel besides writing the words- you could draw your map, name that one character you’ve referred to as Wizard 2 until now, or figure out how the religious beliefs in Country C work exactly. While you’re doing that, you may not be writing but your mind is still focused on it. You can easily make a lot of progress without actually writing!
There’s a lot of pressure on self-employed people to work constantly without breaks, but that’s a good way of damaging your sanity permanently. Burn-out is one hell of a nasty thing, and you don’t want to drive yourself into it. You’re not a machine. You’re human (or whatever you want to classify yourself as). You need breaks, or you’ll destroy yourself. I know it can be difficult to take just five minutes to yourself, but go ahead- take an hour. Or you know what? Take a whole day off! You’d get breaks in every other job, so why not in this one? Relax, and have some fun. Believe me, you’ve earned it.
It doesn’t matter how small the accomplishment – if you’ve just ticked something off your ever-growing to-do list, treat yourself! Have a cookie, relax for a bit, watch one more episode of your favourite TV Show, go for a walk – whatever you fancy doing, do it. Writing can be a solitary job, and we don’t have a manager looking over our shoulders to praise us when we’ve done something well (not that this happens in most jobs, anyway) so we may as well do it ourselves. So what if it’s only small progress? It’s progress! Celebrate!
By all means, set deadlines, but please be realistic. Publishing your book in three months from now might sound wonderful, but can you do it without killing yourself? If you haven’t published a book yourself before, allow more time rather than less to allow for things to go wrong (I’m looking at you, OpenOffice formatting!!). Once you’ve set your publication date, stick to it, even if you’re technically ready to publish sooner. You build momentum in the months and weeks before release, and if you turn around and say ‘sorry, you can have it now’ you lose all that momentum.
For Rise of the Sparrows I set myself some rather strict deadlines. A couple of which I reached early, but it was still a little close. I got the work done, but I was exhausted by the end! So, my promise to myself for the next release is to take it a little easier, and be a wee bit more forgiving. Remember that burn-out devil I mentioned? We don’t want that. Writing a book is hard enough without you turning against yourself.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since you started writing? Treat yourself to a cookie since you’ve definitely earned it, and let’s have a chat!
All giphs come from giphy.
For all of my other musings, click me!
For Cookie Break’s home page, have a look here.